Bringing Scotland’s justice system into the 21st century

It will be for the Scottish Government to decide whether to proceed with a digital justice system.

The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) has published a paper describing what a new summary criminal court procedure could look like, underpinned by digital case management.

“Our task is to bring our summary criminal court procedure into the 21st Century, not by tinkering at the edges, but by radical digital transformation to improve the quality of justice for all concerned,” says Eric McQueen, SCTS chief Executive, in the paper’s foreword. “I am convinced that by having the right dialogue with the right people, we can realise that possibility.”

McQueen writes: “With the digital age well and truly upon us, we are surrounded by technology that shapes our lives, connects us and transforms the way that we conduct and transact business online. Against this background we have the opportunity to reconsider fundamentally how our services are delivered.

“It is fair to say that our summary criminal court procedure has not kept pace with such innovation. Our criminal courts, with their origins in the Victorian times, still rely heavily on paper transactions, postal-based practices and bringing people together in a court room for procedural hearings and trials, many months after an incident. As recent Audit Scotland reports have highlighted, this brings inherent inefficiency, delay and inconvenience.

“The administration of justice is a very serious matter, involving decisions that require to be weighed properly and carefully considered. But it is also important that we grasp the opportunities of the digital age to support those decisions in a way that means justice is administered as efficiently, effectively and fairly as possible.”

The paper assumes three key ‘digital enablers’ will be developed to underpin the transformation of the summary court process:

  • Digital evidence will increasingly become the norm;
  • A ‘digital evidence and information vault’ will allow efficient storage, disclosure and sharing of digital evidence;
  • A ‘digital case management system’ will replace existing court systems, to facilitate digital case management and communication between prosecution, defence and court professionals.

The paper says that it is “important to note that [it] does not discuss specific information technology, security or cost requirements in relation to the above digital enablers. Instead this paper assumes that such systems are capable of being developed. The design, costing and specification would require further work if there is a decision to take forward the new summary justice model in this paper.”

As FutureScot previously reported, it will be for the Scottish Government to decide whether to proceed with adopting a digital justice system which, it is thought, could take three to four years to implement.

Proposition Paper: A New Model for Summary Criminal Court Procedure